Everglades Report: Absolutely, positively, definitely not in Kansas anymore

I fished in Everglades National Park on Wednesday and it was — well, like nothing I’ve experienced before with a fly rod. I’m not sure what I expected, but like any fishing trip, the day had its highs and lows. I can tell you this: it was never boring.

Let’s start with the mosquitos. There were more per cubic foot of space than I’ve ever seen. Ravenous little suckers, too. The most remarkable thing about them was how quickly they descended upon you the moment you opened the car door — or stopped the boat in a cove. Unlike some of the noseeums I’ve encountered, these could be kept at bay with standard-issue bug spray. Still…wow.

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This outing was part of Number One Son Bill’s UMiami Law School graduation present. He was spinning, I was fly rodding. We murdered them at our first stop (technically accessory-to-murdered them). To wit: one of the ladyfish Bill caught got whacked by a shark after he released it. The fish floated away about 30 feet when the shark came back and rolled over on it. It gave me a new appreciation for watching trout take spinners. Bill had an Everglades hat trick of ladyfish, sea trout, and reef snapper within 30 minutes. He outcaught me about three-to-one.

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The Everglades is an intimidating place. The wildlife ranges from the innocuous (butterflies) to the annoying (mosquitoes, snook, tarpon — we’ll get to those last two in a bit) to the potentially deadly (sharks, crocs.) I was amazed that they let people canoe in a canal where we spotted three crocs in the space of 50 yards. The heat and sun can get to you, too, especially if your last outing was in neoprene waders. Then, there’s the structure of the place. From the point-of-view of a boat in a watery expanse, it looks like any big lake. But its creeks and diversions and coves are labyrinthine, mysterious, and untamed. Our guide, Capt. Mark Giacobba, did a great job getting us in and out of some very fishy looking water. As you can see, he knows how to dress for his job.

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We spent most of the day working the mangrove-layered shorelines, but my favorite spot was the tidal pond — I dubbed it “Dead Mangrove Cove” — we poled into. You can’t see from the photo, but in many places the water is only 1-2 foot deep. The snook were not in thick, but there were enough over the course of 90 minutes to keep us on high alert. Now, if you’ve never sight-fished for snook in shallow water under bright sun, you don’t know from spooky fish. I was wholly unprepared for this. We spooked one by pointing at it — and it was 50 feet away. I spooked several starting my first false cast. Hell, I think we spooked a few by just thinking about them. They say that wild brown trout are wary. My new perspective is that that’s just about laughable.  

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It took me a good hour to remember not to step on my line — using a shooting basket in perpetuity will do that to you — while I was casting. The zip ties along the edge of the deck are a brilliant idea when there’s a breeze. So here it is: I blanked on snook. I had one good presentation and follow, but the fish turned away at the last moment. I would have loved a second day to redeem myself, but that will have to wait. The tarpon were even more bashful than the snook. We finally found a diversion where a couple rolled, but by the time we poled over they’d either vanished or been spooked. As the final insult, a school of seven tarpon swam purposefully past the boat as we prepared to leave. They wanted nothing to do with my fly. Bastards.

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Objection! Bill outfished his old man! Overruled, and that’s not a bad first snook. Bill just about dropped his cast in the fish’s mouth. Bill confirmed that this certainly made up for those three miserable snowy days in Pulaski a few years ago when he didn’t get a touch. Great job, kid.

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